Solo homer holds up for Felix Hernandez in 1-0 win for Mariners
Adam Kennedy's home run was his second of the season. That's more than two of the three regulars in the middle of the Mariners' everyday lineup.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Oakland @ Mariners, 7:10 p.m., ROOT
Lost in the false panic over whether Felix Hernandez was missing something this season were the two things he actually was missing: offense and defense.
The Mariners didn't do Hernandez any favors on the offensive side yet again Thursday night, scrounging out just four hits against the visiting Oakland Athletics. But the reason Hernandez emerged with a 1-0 victory was because his teammates did manage to strap on their gloves without dropping them.
Hernandez did the rest, making a fourth-inning home run by Adam Kennedy stand up in a 126-pitch effort that seemed to reinforce that he's still the same pitcher who captured last season's Cy Young Award.
"When we play good defense and we score runs, we win," Hernandez said. "That's what baseball is all about."
Hernandez said "runs" and not "a run" — but the way he was pitching, the Kennedy blast to right field off A's starter Brandon McCarthy was all he'd need. Mariners manager Eric Wedge, knowing he'd pulled Hernandez after only five innings and 90 pitches last Saturday in Kansas City, gave him a little extra leeway.
Hernandez nearly got through the eighth inning before a two-out, two-strike walk to David DeJesus. That brought relief pitcher Jamey Wright in with two on and two out and he got Conor Jackson to ground into a first-pitch fielder's choice.
Brandon League survived a leadoff single in the ninth with help from a tough, over-the-shoulder catch in foul territory by Kennedy, who made several strong plays at first base in the absence of Justin Smoak. It helped Hernandez snap a three-game winless streak in front of only 12,770 fans, the third-smallest crowd in Safeco Field history.
"Everything was good," Hernandez said. "On the corners. My breaking pitches were pretty good. My slider is coming back. And it helped me. That's all I can do, throw strikes. We played good defense, they gave me one run and we won."
Hernandez wouldn't say it out loud, but his team had not played good defense behind him in Kansas City. It resulted in three unearned runs among the five he allowed in a 7-0 rout that prompted a postgame Wedge tirade at his players.
The Mariners had gone 15 consecutive innings without scoring a run with Hernandez on the mound until Kennedy came through with his homer. Wedge had spoken pregame about some of his veterans displaying early leadership and it's clear that Kennedy is one of the guys he meant.
Typically a backup middle infielder, Kennedy has been pressed into service at a first-base position he'd only started six games at in his career before this season. But with Smoak on bereavement leave, Kennedy was manning the bag and came up huge in the sixth inning after his home run.
Cliff Pennington ripped a shot up the first-base line that would have been a double had Kennedy not used his body to block the ball as it took a tough hop. Kennedy kept the ball in front of him, picked it up and made a long flip to Hernandez covering the bag.
"It probably would have been a little easier to just catch it," Kennedy quipped. "But I didn't want it to get by me. I had moved over previous during that at-bat to guard the line so they didn't get any doubles, because (Hernandez) was throwing the ball so well."
But the big defensive inning was the seventh, when third baseman Chone Figgins snagged a Ryan Sweeney line drive, then threw to first to double off the runner.
After a walk to Kurt Suzuki, shortstop Brendan Ryan went deep in the hole to his right for a grounder, pivoted and made a strong throw to first. Kennedy, stretching as far as he seemingly could, came up with the ball an eyelash ahead of the runner.
"I like that play, getting rid of the ball and getting on top of it like that," Ryan said. "I work on that pregame and stuff. All those sinkerballers I've played behind the last few years, it's been something I've gotten comfortable with. It's a little tougher when it's above the belt, because you can't quite break your hips (on the pivot), but we're not even here talking about it if A.K. (Kennedy) doesn't make those picks."
Kennedy said he isn't quite sure how he stretched as far as he did. Like his over-the-shoulder catch in the ninth, he said it comes down to instinct.
"I'm just trying to survive," Kennedy said. "When you're playing out of position like that, you just try to make the plays you can."
Sort of like the Mariners are just trying to survive this tough 7-13 start. Not throwing away games with Hernandez on the hill makes it all a tad easier.
"You look at how we stretched Felix out," Wedge said. "If those (defensive) plays aren't made, then we aren't able to do that."
|Felix vs. Oakland in 2011|
|Felix Hernandez's two wins this year have been against the A's.|
|April 1||@ Oakland||W, 6-2||9||2||1||0||5|
|Thursday||vs. Oakland||W, 1-0||7-2/3||0||0||3||8|
|All 10 of the worst attended games in Safeco Field history have come in the past two seasons, with seven of the 10 from this season.|
|12,407||April 13, 2011||Blue Jays|
|12,411||April 19, 2011||Tigers|
|12,774||April 18, 2011||Tigers|
|13,056||April 11, 2011||Blue Jays|
|13,339||April 20, 2011||Tigers|
|14,528||April 19, 2010||Orioles|
|14,627||May 5, 2010||Rays|
|15,500||April 12, 2011||Blue Jays|
|15,589||May 4, 2010||Rays|
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